A visiting judge ruled Monday that Waco police had sufficient probable cause to jail a biker and his wife in the wake of the deadly May 17 shootout at Twin Peaks.
Retired State District Judge James Morgan denied a motion from attorney Paul Looney, who represents Brenham residents William English, 34, and his wife, Morgan J. English, 31. Looney had hoped to clear them of engaging in organized criminal activity charges at an examining trial Monday morning.
In denying the motion, Morgan ruled that there was sufficient evidence to bind them over to a grand jury for indictment and that authorities had sufficient probable cause to arrest them.
Morgan’s appointment gives him the authority to hear all of the 16 examining trials scheduled for the next two weeks.
A hearing set for Monday afternoon for biker Cody Ledbetter was canceled after Looney withdrew his motion in exchange for prosecutor Michael Jarrett agreeing to let Ledbetter off the ankle monitor he has worn since he bonded out and withdraw his curfew and travel restrictions.
An emotional Ledbetter, a 26-year-old Waco auto mechanic and a member of the Cossacks biker group, cried as he hugged his family after learning he could leave his ankle monitor behind at the courthouse annex.
Looney said he withdrew his motion in Ledbetter’s case after seeing results from the first hearing Monday.
“If I couldn’t win one that was a slam-dunk, why would I even try with a tougher one?” Looney said. “It’s obvious the judge wasn’t going to grant the relief I earned, so I might as well get something of value. My clients are virginally innocent, and he still ruled there was probable cause to arrest them.”
Looney said Monday he was told by the district attorney’s office that they would present the biker cases to a McLennan County grand jury between October and December.
Morgan was appointed to hear the examining trial of Matthew Clendennen after the Hewitt man’s attorney, Clint Broden, was successful in having McLennan County Justice of the Peace W.H. “Pete” Peterson recused from hearing the case.
Broden withdrew his request for an examining trial on Clendennen’s behalf last week.
Department of Public Safety Lt. Steven Schwartz, a 17-year department veteran, testified at the morning hearing that William and Morgan English wore patches that identified them as members of a group called Distorted.
Another patch identified them as members of a support group for the Bandidos, which Schwartz said has been identified as a criminal street gang.
Schwartz said after the shootout that left nine dead and 20 wounded, several dozen people at the Twin Peaks site were questioned and released. Not everyone there was arrested, as some have claimed, he said.
He said he thinks the Englishes were aware of the rift between the Cossacks and Bandidos and they were there that day as a show of support for the Bandidos.
But under cross-examination from Looney, Schwartz said neither he nor other DPS investigators were aware that the seven-member Distorted group existed before May 17. Looney said that of the seven members, only William English has a hint of a criminal past, what he called an “old DWI.”
Schwartz said they wore patches that said they support the Bandidos, so that tells him they are at least “somewhat involved in criminal activity.”
He said he saw nothing that day and has developed no subsequent evidence to show the Englishes are involved in criminal activity.
Schwartz suggested the Distorted group and others who ride motorcycles in Texas might think it is safer to wear a patch showing support for the Bandidos as they ride around the state.
“One way to get a support patch is merely to pay your dues, but that doesn’t make you a Bandido,” Looney said, adding bikers can get a Bandidos support group patch by joining a lawful group and without the knowledge of the Bandidos.
Schwartz agreed with Looney that the Englishes were cooperative and agreed to talk to investigators after the shooting.
“He said they told police that one of their friends brought a gun with him, but they left it locked up in the car.
“Other than that, all we have is that they were merely present at a murder. Correct?” Looney asked.
“Correct,” Schwartz said.
Only two of the 177 bikers who were arrested on engaging in organized criminal activity charges remain jailed in McLennan County.
Morgan, who is hearing the examining trials in the courthouse annex visiting courtroom, has scheduled two more hearings for Wednesday, three for Monday, two for Aug. 26, and three each for Aug. 27 and Aug. 28.
If a judge rules there was not probable cause for the arrest, the defendant is freed from obligations surrounding his arrest, including conditions of bond.
But it does not preclude the district attorney’s office from indicting the defendant later if prosecutors think they have a case.
The state’s burden of proof in examining trials is much less than in a criminal trial, in which a defendant’s guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.